On Sunday, Penelope Trunk wrote a column about the importance of community for Generation Y, whom, as she notes, is sometimes known as the "Teamwork Generation." In her piece, she lists five reasons why community matters to the next generation.
Her article is well worth ten minutes of your time, especially if your business, nonprofit, or school is trying to communicate with and program for Millennials. Not only is community important, but the very definition of the word is getting reworked among this digital generation.
I read Trunk's piece right before leading a workshop at the Nonprofit Resource Center of Alabama. We presented "Fountain of Youth: How to Communicate with Generation Y" to a group of nonprofit leaders that are trying to better connect with younger individuals. (You can download our PowerPoint here.)
While I discussed the things we learned that I wrote about in my post "How to Tell Your Story to Generation Y," we also discussed how the concepts of networking and influence are changing. For example, with Starbucks as the new third place, with chambers of commerce becoming irrelevant networking outlets, and with people keeping up with friends via Facebook, the notion of community has drastically change, and with it, one's ability to influence others.
One question, from a woman who works with an organization focused on senior adults, asked us, "So, will everything soon be digital? Will people just stay on their computers all the time and never come see what we’re doing?"
Just because I spend 10 hours of my day in front of a computer doesn't mean I want to spend all my time there. As long as your event, volunteer opportunity or meeting is better than my online options, I'll shut down my laptop and come out. And ultimately, change still happens best when people meet face to face.
This was evidenced by a brief conversation after our workshop. I was approached by a 20-something who has been hired by her nonprofit to start a junior board to involve more young people in the work of the organization. Her first step? Have coffee with as many people as possible. This is a great idea, because after all, my work world may be digital, but I can't get coffee or human interaction from the keys of my Compaq (no, I'm not a Mac guy).
And so, perhaps now more than ever, Generation Y longs for communal experience. A lot of this is, as Trunk notes, because of how they grew up, what college was like, and the current values of this demographic. But it's also how change happens and how meaning is made.
I don't care what tools, bells and whistles the newest gadget promises. While it may be cool and while it may mean I can work better, I am still in search of meaning. I still want my life to matter. I still want to do something important. And I'm not alone in this.
Two years ago today, Kyle Lake died while performing a baptism at the church at which my wife and I were married. In the aftermath of that accident, I witnessed an outpouring of community. While this often happens in the wake of tragedy, what has continued since that is nearly immeasurable. Kyle's commitment to community and his desire to see people discover real meaning where they are is a legacy that lives deep in the hearts of everyone who knew him or heard about him.
The prioritization of community among the next generation is not a fad. Real community is something that can't be replaced or found instantly. It happens. And when it does, Generation Y will be happier, will stay put, and will begin to build the legacies that sustain our organizations and cities.